Christian Graf Plettenberg about Pepo

Tribute to Pepo on the occasion of the Austrian Federation of Sports Awards (ÖPS) 2012 

On July 27, while watching the Olympics on the television, I quickly realized that it was a huge mistake not to have mPepo Jugendade the journey and attended the games personally. The city and Great Britain in its entirety, welcomed the world with open arms. An atmosphere of joy, boisterous enthusiasm expressed by thousands of people in sold out stadiums, was palatable even from afar. However, the hopes for an Austrian medal remained elusive. Day by day, week by week, Austrian medal aspirations remained unfulfilled.
On August 29, seeing and feeling the enthusiastic – almost euphoric - crowds in stadiums filled virtually to capacity, I realized that Great Britain was making a statement. This welcome signaled to the world that the integration of people with disabilities goes beyond the equal but separate opportunities – that the inclusion of fellow humans must be the basis of our society! Contemplations, by the way, to which I had already been introduced in the book «Geht Nicht, Gibt’s Nicht» by Thomas Heller, who is also present tonight. Thomas also experienced these Olympics as a competitor and rode to a 16th placing.
Finally! It happened. On the 37th day after the official Olympic open ceremony, the first Austrian athlete, a rider of course, tookPuchs an der Olympiade his place on the Olympic pedestal to a bronze medal. On the pedestal he stood, beaming and overjoyed, unaware that fate had intervened and was to deal him with yet another blow: the death of his beloved mother-in-law. At this point it is human to ponder: how much cruelty is a human expected to endure?

Without question, he was prepared to cancel his paralympic competition by scratching out of the freestyle test. Only the influence and motivation of his strong and supportive wife Michele, convinced him otherwise, to continue on and to compete. The daunting task of reaching the highest level of concentration in the face of grief and pain must have been overwhelming. Would we consider this «unthinkable»? No, because we are aware of the iron discipline and irrepressible strong will intrinsic to the man named: Pepo Puch.

On Monday, September 3, 2012 the next scene unfolded in the Olympic Equestrian Stadium in Greenwich Park: The Freestyle Test Grade 1b was starting. Fine Feeling danced with Pepo to the sound of Johann Strauss. Better than all of the others. Accordingly, the sounds of the Austrian were heard for the first time, that 39th day after the opening of the Olympic games. Gold for Austrian, through Pepo Puch.

My English friend Steven Wilde, who served as announcer for the equestrian games, sent me a heartfelt email: «Dear Christian, what an achievement for this man, what a great Europameistervictory for our sport, what a wonderful day for Austria! Please pass on to Pepo Puch our heartfelt congratulations!»
Atop of the pedestal, stood a man who could barely believe his luck. And, we were there with him!

Was it true? Had it only been almost four years to the day since Pepo’s eventing accident in Schenefeld, Hamburg, whereupon only after weeks in the hospital he was able to feel his big toe? Was it true that it took an additional four months in a Swiss clinic for him to reach up and touch his face? Yes! There he stood, the highest position on the pedestal, the gold medal adorning his neck, in his face the smile of a winner well aware of the twists and turns of fate!
 «If it is conceivalbe, it is doable» is his motto. That sounds logical. However, it takes a huge amount of inner fortitude to proclaim what seems undoable as doable, just because one is determined.  And this wasn’t the first time. It had happened often before.
The Olympic gold tends to overshadow previous successes and push them to the background. Moorsele, Belgium, 2011, Pepo won the European Championships in the Champions Test and won the silver in the muscial freestyle. As of fall last year, Pepo topped the rankings list at number one! At the Maimarkt Competition in Mannhein Pepo set a world record in winning the freestyle test with 80.667%. It follows naturally, that Pepo has received many accolades including recognition from the Bundespresident as well as receiving the highest achievements from the State of Steiermark.
However, dear Pepo, there is nothing that exists, no prizes nor accolades that recognize with which grace and strength you have dealt with your fate – let alone words. Yet, I am honored and pleased that I may choose the words for this laudation and deliver them to you on this evening.  I express to you my honest and deep admiration not only for your athletic achievements, but much more for what you have accomplished, embedded in the surroundings of your loving family, which sets an example not only for the world of athletics, but for our entire society. The term «role model» is one closely associated with you, however I will not use it in this situation, as we wish upon no one person the fate that you have been dealt.
But most of all, dear Pepo, I sincerely thank you, that our paths have crossed and that I may be close to such an extraordinary person. And, particularly during this season, shortly before the arrival of the new year, it is known that an encounter with you, the chimney sweep, holds a further and deeper meaning.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you, that you have remained after all of your successes, as your daughter replied to a reporter with heartfelt conviction: ‘My Daddy is completely normal.’
Ladies and gentlemen, today the highest distinction that the ÖPS can award – the ÖPS Trophy – goes to a completely normal man, Pepo Puch.